1. Samsung is just doing laps now
Galaxy Note 9 was arguably the least compromised phone of 2018. Galaxy S9 would’ve been brilliant if it had better battery life. Samsung threw jabs last year and the market didn’t respond well, Galaxy S10 is a knockout blow to its Android competition. All the Korean giant needed to do, after it banished its features-for-the-sake-of-it demons when it launched the Infinity Display two years ago, was deliver a great software experience. One UI did that. Jab. Then it followed with killer S10 hardware. Cross.
Galaxy S10 was an evolution many years in the making and the execution is flawless. Ever since it first curved the rear glass of the Galaxy Note 5 – S6 Edge had the front glass curved, but the design was still a bit off – Samsung has been on a trajectory that culminates in users effectively just holding a screen in their hands. Now add in the same size battery of the Note 9 (Samsung states the S10 Plus battery as 4 100mAh typical, but the capacity reporting has changed so its still a 4 000mAh rated cell) and a more efficient and powerful Exynos 9820 CPU, and you have a beast of a device that can go the distance.
2. Why did they not tell the full story?
As usual, markets outside of the US will get Samsung’s homebaked Exynos CPU along with the Mali GPU instead of the Adreno. On the graphics side the Adreno 640 on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 wipes the floor with Samsung’s offering, but in raw processing power the pair of custom Mongoose M4 cores (clocked at 2,7GHz) are bested by the muti Apple sprinkled on the A12 Bionic processors in the iPhones XR, XS and XS Max. Oh, and that 9820 is built on an 8nm process, as opposed to the 7nm that’s in vogue right now.
Again it’s Huawei that loses because the Kirin 980 beating inside of its Mate 20 Pro was built to hang with the Androids of yesteryear (read: 2018). Exynos is the current raw power single-core king of Android land by virtue of it being the first to cross the 4 000 in Geekbench 4.1 (total score of 4 543), but Samsung can’t brag too much because mainland US get the hamstrung Qualcomm chip.
3. I like the notch more, most times
Remember how I freaked out when Huawei let YouTube videos bleed into the notch area on the Mate 20 Pro? Samsung’s hole-punch front-facing cameras also cut into your full-screen content. You had one job, Samsung. I got over it quickly, though, because it doesn’t really infringe on any important content (filmmakers don’t usually frame things in the extreme corners) but I’m waiting for the one video that’s going to get my blood boiling.
I also don’t like the way that it shifts the status bar content to the left. It just feels like clumsy design when things aren’t centred in obvious ways.
4. Samsung needs better haptics
The device I have costs R21 000. Because it’s lighter and thinner than the Note 9, haptic feedback on the S10+ feels more hollow. I’ve also come on to this phone from testing the iPhone XR and LG V40 ThinQ which represent two of the best haptic feedback experiences on the market. Yes, Samsung’s motor is more aggressive and you’ll be less likely to miss calls when wearing loose-fitting pants, but it’s still a distinctly cheap feeling experience for such an expensive device.
5. Double-tap to wake should be mandatory
In a world ridding itself of the lock screen being able to glance at notifications or check your phone status without having to actually deal with unlocking your phone is an undervalued luxury. Thank you Samsung for finally doing something that LG has been on for years. Apple also gets credit for tap-to-wake on the home button-less iPhones.
6. Ultra wide-angle is the most useful additional lens
Another feature Samsung stole from its compatriot is the wide-angle lens. Telephoto zoom is cool and all, but you’ll more than likely run into shooting situations where you’ll wish you could take a few steps back to take in the entire scene. At 123-degrees, Samsung claims its wide-angle lens has the same field of view as your eyes. It certainly is close. But the real achievement here is the lack of barrel distortion, which can definitely be chalked up to intervention from the neural processor.
7. On-device neural processing is the future we were promised
Even Google is betting on industry-wide adoption of built-in AI hardware acceleration for smartphones. How do I know this? Because it’s a major piece of the augmented reality Google Maps puzzle. Soon – if you’re not testing it already – you’ll be able to hold your phone up in front of you and have the navigation overlay on the camera display. It’s the holy grail of real-time navigation, but we currently have too much latency on our wireless data connections to do the processing in the cloud. The more heavy lifting our phones can do locally, the better our connected services will become.
Shout out to Huawei and, to a lesser extent. Apple for pioneering this in the consumer market.
8. I still don’t believe in folding phones
There was a demonstration area for the Galaxy Fold where journalists were not allowed to take pictures or video. That device is magical and exceeded my admittedly low expectations by an order of magnitude. But I still don’t want one.
Hear me out: I own an iPad that I love. It’s my preferred media consumption device and my remote productivity powerhouse because I don’t like carrying laptops around. I also like running and carry my phone with me when I do that. I’ve invested in ways to carry huge phones like the Note 9 with me on a run, but that doesn’t mean that I like it. My ideal situation is the iPad for productivity stuff and my iPhone SE for all my smartphone stuff. Galaxy Fold is too cumbersome to be used as a phone and then doesn’t expand to a big enough screen for productivity. Oh, and I have an Apple Pencil for my iPad as well. Why Samsung didn’t equip the Fold with an S-Pen is a mystery to me. If the fear is that it would kill the Note product line, the Note had it coming.
9. The Galaxy S10e is the best smartphone in the world right now
It does away with the additional depth-sensing front-facing camera and the telephoto camera on the back, but it is a fully capable Galaxy S10 in a much more human-friendly form factor. Just the price isn’t ideal. Pro tip: wait until around June to pick one up at a more reasonable price.
10. Anyone who says this year’s flagships aren’t worth the price is lying
We can’t get upset because we can’t afford the new toys. The engineering achievements needed to produce these devices is insane. I’m holding a hugely capable computer with a cutting edge CPU, 8GB of RAM, a gorgeous screen and a spectacular camera in my hand. If I had to go back in time and show 25-year-old me the Galaxy S10+ and then ask how much I’d pay for it, that number would probably be a lot higher than the current sticker price.
And that’s the point. The Unpacked event unveiled eight new devices. Galaxy S10, S10e and S10+ was the central focus for the simple reason of it being the best smartphones in the world. Galaxy Fold is a novel idea that will do more for future development than actually succeed in the consumer market. Galaxy buds missed the mark by implementing ambient audio pass through in the dumbest way possible. Galaxy Watch Active will probably cost too much and not compete well against fitness-focused wearables from other manufacturers.
Only Galaxy S10 makes a believable case for itself as a must-have consumer device. One because it breaks from the iterative nature of the previous S device, and two because it’s relatively future proof for the next two years.